Congress on Friday passed a bill that preserves federal funding for the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train that currently runs between Boston and Portland, and will soon service Freeport and Brunswick. A modified version of a measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe passed the Senate as part of the final compromise on a highway bill package, according to a press release.
The measure allows states, Maine included, to utilize funding from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program to operate the Downeaster. Since 2005, the train has received nearly $6 million a year from the CMAQ program, funding that has been extended eight times since then. The funding, which makes up nearly half the Downeaster's $15 million annual operating budget, was set to expire this fall. President Obama must still sign the bill.
U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud authored an amendment to the House version of the bill, but it never came up for a vote, according to a release from Pingree's office.
The highway bill also extends funding for Portland's METRO bus service, which stood to lose federal transit funding because its service area was nearing the 200,000 population limit. An exception preserves the funding for systems that operate fewer than 100 buses.
Congress also approved a measure to extend lower interest rates for subsidized student loans.
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